Check my pickling/sun-drying game.
So you have old food. Don't throw it away just yet. Wilted veggies taste great in soups and stews, and you can always freeze your overripe fruit for smoothies.
Recycle your overripe fruit by cutting off brown spots, rough cutting it into chunks, laying the chunks on a cookie sheet and popping it into the freezer. Once they're frozen through, gather them into a bag. You can use it in smoothies, baked goods, preserves and dessert sauces. You can also throw your old bananas right in the freezer for future muffin use.
Slice your fruit into evenly-thick pieces, cutting off brown spots.
Coat fruit in some lemon juice to keep it from browning
Put it on a cooling rack, on top of a cookie sheet, in a 150-degree
cook according to this chart
Cure your fruit: Place your fruit in an open jar and let the moisture evaporate and even out. Shake it every day, then seal the top on the 4th day. Curing helps prevent molding and evens out the moisture in the fruit.
Overripe fruit works well for drying because the high sugar content makes it more like a store-bought, sweetened product.
This is an easy thing to turn into a dried fruit snack. You can make dried slices for snacks, blend it into a paste and dry it out for fruit leather, or dry some citrus peels to use as air freshener or to flavor tea.
This one might take you a few tries to get your "batter" consistency right, but homemade fruit leather is really filling and packs a nice energy punch.
- Blend your fruit into a thick paste and add sweetener you prefer to taste. The more sugar the puree contains, the more elasticity it’ll have.
- Using an offset spatula, spread your fruit puree out until it’s pretty thin, about 1/4 inch thick, on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to make it even and remove bubbles.
- Dry it in a 125-degree oven for about 12-15 hours, or until it peels away cleanly from the parchment but before it gets too dark or dried out and crumbly.
Tip: Overripe pineapple, kiwis, cherries, blueberries and peaches are about as close as you can get to candy with dried fruit and fruit leather.
Love cocktails? Recycle your overripe fruit into this delicious cocktail additive. The only kitchen skill you need for this is patience.
¼ lb fruit
1/4 lb sugar, any variety
1/2 Cup vinegar, any variety (experiment with your flavors here)
- Sort through your fruit to remove any leaves or moldy bits.
- Rinse the fruit if it’s dusty; for stone fruits, peel, pit, and roughly chop.
- Pile the fruit in a jar, add sugar, shake and let it sit in the jar up to a week, but a minimum of 2 hours
- Strain the fruit pulp out, squeezing hard to get all the juice out.
- Mix the sweetened juice with the vinegar.
- Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge indefinitely (yes, really).
If your family eats a lot of toast, you could always turn your old fruit into a big jar of fruit cocktail refrigerator jam. Old, squishy berries and peaches are especially well-suited for this, and blending a few fruits together can be a fun flavor experiment.
Put a plate in the freezer.
- Cook your skinned, pitted and chopped fruit down with enough sugar to almost cover the fruit.
- Add a splash of lemon juice and cook it down until until there's no foam and it's bubbly.
- Drop a teaspoon of jam on the frozen plate and pop it into the freezer for 5 minutes. This rapidly cools it to room temperature.
- Jam is ready when a clean spoon passed through the cooled jam leaves a defined, clean streak on the plate.
- Seal it and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 weeks
We don't recommend trying to dry your veggies unless they're high-acid like tomatoes. Dried fruit is meant to me consumed in 1-2 weeks, and its high acid and sugar content makes it better for shelf stability. Most veggies are tough to get totally dry unless you're doing a method like string-drying beans, and leftover moisture could result in mold growth. Otherwise, stick to your usual route of freezing, pickling and canning.
The veggies that stand up best to freezing are high-fiber, and high-sugar veggies like corn, broccoli, carrots, peas, and things that don’t have a lot of water in their structure.
Veggies like spinach, kale, green beans, and things with lots of water in them stand up better to freezing once they’re blanched.
- Set out one pot of boiling water and one bowl of ice water.
- Blanch the veggies in the boiling water for about a minute (they’ll turn bright green and the leaves will wilt slightly) and then plunge them into the cold water to cool.
- Dry 'em off, bag 'em up and freeze them.
Tip: want that fresh-grilled summer char on your veggies? Grill them instead of blanching for a totally sublime mid-winter frozen veggie experience. To ensure even heating to destroy enzymes and bacteria, wrap the grilled veggies in foil and let them steam through.
You can pickle almost anything (as the Portlandia sketch perfectly skewers), and it’s the easiest method of using jars to preserve vegetables. Once you prep your veggies and pack them into jars, all you have to do is prep your pickling brine, heat it, pour it in your jars and seal them up. You can boil or pressure-cook your jars to make them shelf-stable, or just pack them in the fridge as-is and buy yourself a few more weeks with your produce.
Pickling is a little bit more finicky than other preserving methods, so I’d highly suggest looking up veggie-specific directions on my favorite website for learning preserving, www.pickyourown.com. Plus, once you make your own pickles at home and get your spice blends going, you’ll never go back to those floppy, flavorless grocery pickles again.
Why not canning?
Canning is best suited to fresh, unblemished veggies that stand up better to the processing heat. If you want to start canning your vegetables at home, you're probably going to need a pressure cooker and a lot of jars. Heat treating these jars is essential to keeping out harmful food bacteria, so it's not for the weekend kitchen tinkerer looking to save a few bucks. I'd rather devote a whole cover story to canning than try to explain all the nuances here. Improper canning can literally kill you with food-borne pathogens. That said, canning is really fun to learn and great for home gardeners. Newbies should try out canning high-acid, tomato-based foods like homemade salsa and hot sauce that will self-limit their own infection with a low pH. Check out the pickyourown.com link for more information.